March 05, 2009

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Direct Mail Redux: Return of the Personal Letter Direct mail volume is down. Big traditional mailers are departing the scene. Costs are up. And a postal rate hike is imminent on May 11th. But highly targeted and personalized direct mail can be an effective break-thru media during this spiraling recession. Here's why ... 1. We're inundated with opt-in and spam e-mail. There's no magic, no anticipation and few new tricks to surprise us and to prompt more, better opens. E-mail has become institutionalized and with broad scale acceptance and use come response rate plateaus. 2. Nobody gets personal mail any more. Of the 199.4 billion pieces of mail that the post office delivers less than 3.8 percent is actual personal relevant human to human content. Mail is an underused channel to connect directly with people, even though our mailboxes are full of stuff. Deliver Magazine has a very cool graphic illustrating the breakdown of what ends up in your mailbox in its March issue. The clear implication (at least to me) is that if you write somebody a personal letter -- one that looks, feels and smells like a personal letter not an ad in an envelope -- using personal, individualized information -- you have a shot a genuinely touching and communicating with a customer or prospect. It's a rare chance to capitalize on the unexpected. 3. Refined creative tactics exist. Direct mail creatives have tested and refined an array of techniques to optimize opens and response -- the twin moments of truth. We have a corpus of knowledge on the size, shape, texture, color, fonts, forms of address, key words, tone and which authorial voice to use in which circumstances to address which audiences. The trick is to blend this expertise with purchase history or behavioral data to create a compelling, relevant, personal, maybe even intimate form of communication. The technology to do this, and still make it look private, individual and personal, is widely available. 4. Mail enables small batch laser targeting. While the big volume mailers and carpet bombers are cutting back and scrambling to survive, according to the Winterberry Group, returning to the basic letter format gives marketers a perfect platform for targeting and testing. Even with a medium that costs 10 times more than e-mail, even small firms can afford to word process and mail hundreds or thousands of carefully selected and targeted names. Whether the focus is acquisition, retention, loyalty or usage stimulation a personal letter can cost effectively move the needle. 5. There's a first mover advantage to be had. Because so many direct marketers are bombing customers and prospects with self-mailers, double-sided postcards, snap-packs, letter packages that scream "I'm an ad" on the envelope, coupons, flyers, catalogs,circulars, postcards, faux invitations, faux greeting cards, faux bills, faux official documents and all kinds of other printed SPAM, the personal letter won't work if everybody does it. The victory will go to the first mover who does it right because it will be so different and unexpected. 6. You can leverage remembered joy. As children we all were surprised and delighted by something special that came to us in the mail from someone special far away. The memory and the feelings of that moment are stored and carried around by millions of people. A well crafted personal letter taps the reservoir of good will and belief that these memories represent. Mail, more than pixels, carry embedded emotions. These impulses and sentiments can be directed your way.
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Getting Online Video Right Online video has captured the attention and imagination of everyone on the Web. It engages hundreds of millions weekly and sustains every marketer’s fantasy of launching a viral video seen by everyone on the planet. But getting from fantasy to reality requires marketers to finesse a battery of technical, strategy and business challenges in order to harness this channel and use it to the best advantage. Currently most online videos are passive. You can watch them, maybe comment on them and pass them along. Yet the difference between TV and the Web is that viewers expect to be able to lean in and click, respond, request, download and act on the things they see or hear. Controlling interactivity and selling access on CPM terms is the principal business of leading video sites, like YouTube. Yet increasingly brands and marketers are looking for options and tools to craft, customize and distribute the online video experience in ways that achieve brand marketing and business objectives. Enter Scott Broomfield, co-founder of Veeple.com, a Palo-Alto based video services provider with a platform, a process and a plan. Launched in October, Veeple has attracted more than 700 clients with large concentrations in the agency world, entertainment, gaming and training & education on the strength of its well-priced and easy-to-use software-as-service platform which prepares videos for widespread Web distribution and embeds clickable elements and a travel-along viewer into the bit stream. Web video isn’t as easy or as automatic as it seems. The web isn’t just a place to get extra mileage from video shot for other purposes, bloopers or outtakes. Using web video requires insight, planning, savvy and luck. Increasingly brands are creating video assets with web viewer segments and specific site placements in mind. In some ways the Web presents new creative challenges, even for those skilled in creating consumer TV ads or B2B video tools. On the technical side video has to be processed so that it can be transmitted, received and clearly viewed in a wide array of players and a wide array of browser configurations and settings. In terms of targeting, 97 percent of all websites get less than 10,000 page views so finding the right size audience isn’t guaranteed. And if you can find the right sites among the 130,000 that attract more than 10,000 views, expect to lose half your audience in the first 40 seconds of viewing. Evidently we’ve been conditioned by 30-second TV spots to expect concise messages and abbreviated story lines. Here are tips on making online video work effectively for your brand gleaned from my conversation with Scott. You can find a treasure trove of additional online video resources here. Think Through the Video Experience. Start by deciding what you want viewers to see, feel and do. Then structure the content and the points of interaction to deliver against that vision. The experience necessary to create a hot lead is different than the experience needed to introduce a brand. Structure the sensations to take advantage of the senses and the functionality of the Web. Place Nothing Further Away Than Two Clicks. Make every interaction no more than 2 clicks away. Viewers want instant gratification and access. Give it to them. Keep the interactions simple, easy and intuitive. These are conversation starters not the whole megilla. Make each interaction the next logical step in the persuasion or sales process. Observe the Two Icon Limit. When you dangle cues for clicking, limit them to two. Given too many choices viewers either get stumped and abandon the experience or get so involved with clicking they abandon the experience. Keep in mind that some icons are more powerful than others. Adobe has, over 20 years, trained all of us to click on the PDF icon like Pavlov’s dogs. So if you offer a PDF remember that whatever else you set out as a click lure will have super strong competition. Link these choices to the branding or the sales process. The next click should advance the story, the experience, the relationship or the sale. If it doesn’t don’t distract your viewer. Aim to Get On Base. If the average online video captures viewers’ attention for 84 seconds and half the audience bails after 40 seconds, you have to think short and punchy. Each 20 seconds has to tell a story and sell the viewer on watching the next 20 seconds. Your creative must engage and get to the point quickly and your first click of interactivity has to punctuate...

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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